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Gender and Water  

Women and men share different roles and responsibilities in regard to water use and management. These differing roles influence how men and women interact with resources and how changes in the resources impact differently upon them. It is important to understand these gender differences and develop an action plan to reduce any negative impacts of these differences.

LEAD works with women from indigenous communities.
Source: Verelst 2005
( click to enlarge )

Poverty has a disproportionate impact upon women and many of the world’s poorest areas are in regions faced with water scarcity (IFAD 2001). Women play a critical role in water resources management for both domestic and productive uses. Women and girls in developing countries are generally responsible for water collection often travelling long distances to get to the nearest source for domestic purposes. This role requires them to walk on average 6 km a day (UNFPA 2002), although this distance increases where water is scarce or sources are contaminated (IFAD 2007). The journey to collect water forges social relationships within the community; however, it can also place women and children in unsafe and hazardous environments which impacts negatively on their overall health and welfare.

Women are also burdened with household cleaning, sanitation and hygiene, particularly for small children, and with caring for sick members of the household. According to the World Bank (1996) water and sanitation-related lead to higher health costs, lost wages, and lower productivity. Due to inherent gender relations and barriers, women are disproportionally affected by natural disasters, including floods. They suffer high death rates during disasters and experience barriers to recovering from disasters (UN Water 2006).

The presence of safe and reliable water sources close to homes reduces the time women spend walking to collect water and allows them to use this time for other activities. As a result, women have a vested interest in using rainfall run-off or irrigation water (IFAD 2007).

Incorporating Gender into Water Projects

Experience from the World Bank has demonstrated that incorporating gender dimensions into project design and implementation improves the overall project performance. Similarly, demand driven, participatory projects also increase the success of water projects.

The following lessons learned were documented in the World Bank Toolkit on Gender and Sanitation:

  • Lesson 1: Gender is a central concern in water and sanitation.
  • Lesson 2: Ensuring both women’s and men’s participation improves project performance.
  • Lesson 3: Specific, simple mechanisms must be created to ensure women’s involvement.
  • Lesson 4: Attention to gender needs to start as early as possible.
  • Lesson 5: Gender analysis is integral to project identification and data collection.
  • Lesson 6: A learning approach is more gender-responsive than a blueprint approach.
  • Lesson 7: Projects are more effective when both women’s and men’s preferences about “hardware” are addressed.
  • Lesson 8: Women and men promote project goals through both their traditional and non-traditional roles.
  • Lesson 9: Non-governmental organisations and especially women’s groups can facilitate a gender-balanced approach.
  • Lesson 10: Gender-related indicators should be included when assessing project performance.

Role of Women in the Basin

A number of NGOs in Angola and Namibia support women in securing rights to access to land, water and natural resources. Two of these NGOs are the following:

The Land, Environment and Development (LEAD) Project in Namibia

The Land, Environment and Development (LEAD) project in Namibia (Legal Assistance Centre 2010) is being implemented by the Namibian NGO Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) since 1997. LEAD is one of four major projects of the organisation.

The motivation behind LEAD was the recognition that many human rights issues in Namibia are likely to involve decisions about and competition over, the ownership and development of land and other natural resources including water.

The LEAD Project's primary aim is to address the needs of the rural poor by cooperating with government and NGOs working in the relevant field.

In 2002 the Project published a report titled "One day we will all be equal" - the outcome of a two year socio-legal research study into Namibia's land reform and resettlement process.

One of the more known land and environment rights cases that the Project is dealing with is the controversial 'Epupa case', wherein the Project provides legal assistance to the communities residing around the Epupa Falls area and who would have been affected by a construction of the Epupa Hydro-electric dam.

The Integrated Rural Development Project Bunjei, Angola

One project which considers gender is the "Integrated Rural Development Project Bunjei" nearby the Gove dam in Huila Province, Angola. The Water and Sanitation Committees in all twenty villages of the project area are equally constituted by women and men. Once a month the committees invite the villagers to a community meeting, where all water related aspects are discussed and decisions are made. The project team and the committees take care that women participate actively in all discussions and decisions. The Bunjei experience shows that women pay special interest in maintaining the areas for drinking water of their villages clean.

Four Key Steps in a Gender Approach to Governance


Context-specific information about women and men’s different experiences, problems and priorities is essential to effective gender mainstreaming. Statistical information should be routinely disaggregated into women and men’s experiences, with gender analysis being part of the situational analysis. This will assist in identifying inequalities where they exist and in making a case for developing policies that address these inequalities.

Consultation, advocacy and decision making

It is important that women and marginalised groups have a strong voice to ensure that their views are taken into account. This means promoting the involvement of women and men in consultation and decision making from the community to the highest levels of management.

Action to promote gender sensitive beneficiary groups

Action to promote greater equality in decision making and opportunity for poor women and men should be based on context specific sex-disaggregated data and gender analytical information.

Action to promote gender sensitive organisations

Gendered approaches in water governance will depend on the skills, knowledge and commitment of staff involved in implementation and management. Developing appropriate capacity in staff as well as addressing gender difference and inequality in organisations is crucial to creating inclusive water sector organisations.”

Source: Gender and Water Alliance 2006; Derbyshire 2002




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